13 of the most famous paintings in the world and where to see them

2018-11-30 10:30 - Gabi Zietsman
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Art may be subjective, but you'd be hard-pressed to deny the brilliance of these revered paintings from around the world.

While you may have seen the various artworks online, in books or in the many popular renditions inspired by them, it remains a different experience when you see the original, unfiltered, with your own eyes.

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It might be bigger, smaller, less or more colourful than its reproductions - and the emotion it may evoke in real life may just be the remnants of the passion that fuelled the artists embedded in the canvas.

But if a specific artwork is on your bucket list and you finally make the pilgrimage to see it, double check if the painting is not on loan somewhere else. Certain artworks, like Frida Kahlo's self-portraits, tend to move around a lot to worldwide exhibits, and it would be devastating to make it to a museum and find that what you came for is off on a holiday of its own.

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Here are some of the most famous paintings in the world (a short list) and where to see them:

The Chinese Girl

Artist: Vladimir Tretchikoff

Why it's special: Painted in the 50s by an artist who spent the last years of his life in South Africa, prints of the Chinese Girl with the blue skin tone was one of the best-selling prints of the 20th century, and the original is right here in SA!

Where to see it? Delaire Graff Estate in Stellenbosch, South Africa.

Self-Portrait with Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird

Artist: Frida Kahlo

Why it's special: While Mexican artist Kahlo is generally known for her over 50 self-portraits, this one is the most well-known from this very famous female artist.

Where to see it? Harry Ransom Centre, The University of Texas in Austin, US.

Mona Lisa

Artist: Leonardo da Vinci

Why it's special: The smile of Mona Lisa is the most famous painting in the world, as well as the most valuable with an insurance valuation of R800 million in 2017.

Where to see it? The Louvre in Paris, France.

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The Last Supper

Artist: Leonardo da Vinci

Why it's special: Da Vinci's other famous artwork is a depiction of Jesus Christ's last meal with his followers. What you may not know though is that little of the original painting remains, having been restored so many times.

Where to see it? Santa Maria Delle Grazie in Milan, Italy.


Artist: Pablo Picasso

Why it's special: This painting is famous for its message - it was created as a political statement on the ravages of war after the Nazi regime bombed the Spanish town of Guernica.

Where to see it? Museo Reina Sofia in Madrid, Spain.

The Persistence of Memory

Artist: Salvador Dali

Why it's special: Painted in the 30s, the melted clocks of Dali are prevalent in popular culture for its somewhat fatalistic undertones.

Where to see it? Museum of Modern Art in New York, US.

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The Kiss

Artist: Gustav Klimt

Why it's special: This is the most famous painting from Klimt's 'Golden Period', and his life-size subjects' embrace reflect how love is at the centre of being.

Where to see it? Belvedere Museum in Vienna, Austria.

Girl with A Pearl Earring

Artist: Johannes Vermeer

Why it's special: Considered the Dutch version of the Mona Lisa, this painting became even more famous after a novel came out that fictionalised the creation of the painting, which eventually went on to become a film.

Where to see it? Mauritshuis in The Hague, The Netherlands.

The Birth of Venus

Artist: Sandro Botticelli

Why it's special: The simplicity of this work's depiction of a famous mythological moment has appealed to the imagination for centuries with hundreds of versions permeating popular culture.

Where to see it? Uffizi Gallery in Florence, Italy.

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The Starry Night

Artist: Vincent van Gogh

Why it's special: Considered the magnus opus of Van Gogh's work, this starry night was actually the view from his asylum's window, which he's used in many other paintings in the daytime. 

Where to see it? The Museum of Modern Art in New York, US.

Night Watch

Artist: Rembrandt van Rijn

Why it's special: One of the most famous Dutch paintings for sure, it's popular for its size, the unique use of light and shadow and its ability to trick the viewer in making it look like the painting is almost moving.

Where to see it? Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, The Netherlands.

The Scream

Artist: Edvard Munch

Why it's special: Four versions of this famous modern look into anxiety actually exists, and was made even more famous after two of the versions have been targeted for theft multiple times.

Where to see it? Nasjonalmuseet in Oslo, Norway.

The Creation of Adam

Artist: Michelangelo

Why it's special: While it's painted on the ceiling of a chapel, its depiction of Adam and God touching is widely recognisable and portrays a certain divinity in humankind.

Where to see it? Sistine Chapel in Vatican City.  

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